Study: Students ignoring online feedback

While a majority of students tend to ignore online feedback from professors, this key part of the classroom experience tends to matter the least to those who need it the most. However, inspiration for a solution might be as simple as a trip to the local grocery store, according to researchers from Western and Queen’s University Belfast.

Collaborating with Karen King from Queen’s University Belfast, Western Biology professor Paul Mensink used educational data mining to quantify student access of online feedback files posted to a learning management system. Learning management systems (e.g., Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, Docebo) are widely used by instructors across the postsecondary education sector to manage courses and upload assignment feedback online.

Mensink found that when students could see their mark before opening their feedback, 42 per cent of instructor feedback was never accessed by students. This represents “a critical breakdown in the feedback cycle” for students and also demoralizes faculty who spend hours providing feedback on assignments, he explained.

But a possible solution is easy to implement – final assignment grades should be embedded into online feedback so that students have to access feedback files to obtain their mark and review instructor comments.

“It’s like grocery stores placing milk in the back, left corner. Even though you may initially just go in to get your milk, you normally pick up other things along the way,” he explained. “In this case, even if students access their feedback only to receive their mark, they are going to see their instructor comments and hopefully take them on board.”

When assessment marks were integrated into the feedback, the proportion of unopened feedback dropped significantly to only 17 per cent, according to the study.

One of the most troubling findings was that male students with lower grades were the least likely to access feedback, which means students that could benefit the most from reading feedback are not even looking at it. However, integrating marks into assignment feedback meant that males were more than 27 times more likely to access their feedback file. Interestingly, embedding marks into feedback showed relatively little impact for female students.

The study also showed that placing assignment deadlines near the end of the semester, as is commonly done in many courses for major assignments, reduces the likelihood that students will access feedback at all.

The study, Student access of online feedback is modified by the availability of assessment marks, gender and academic performance, was published in the March 2019 edition of the journal British Journal of Educational Technology.

Western is hosting the Times Higher Education (THE) Teaching Excellence Summit in 2019 – the first time a THE World Summit Series event has been hosted in Canada.